Shae is in Alaska for another week, so she asked me — Spike, the guest-blogging porcupine — to handle her monthly veggie challenge post. If you remember, she is working her way through the vegetable alphabet to see if she can get herself to like vegetables better and eat them more often. This month she had to pick an “E” veggie. Once again, she didn’t have many to choose from: endive, escarole, edamame? She purposefully chose a vegetable she doesn’t usually like — eggplant. (Shhh. It doesn’t really matter that, like its relative the tomato, the eggplant is technically a fruit. They’re both nightshades and treated like vegetables in cooking.) Maybe she decided on eggplant because she knew I was the one who was going to have to write about it.
Most Alaskan porcupines don’t know a lot about eggplant. They don’t grow where I’m from; originally, they were from India. When Shae first showed it to me, I thought it was some kind of fat-bottomed animal. I poked at it to see if it would move, but it didn’t do anything. It was so weird and shiny! She cut it up and gave me a bite and we both agreed it needed something. I said salt. Porcupines love salt. I mean, love, love, love salt. Without something else to go with it, this eggplant tasted empty as a sponge.
But guess what? That turned out to be the beauty of the thing. In this rough-cut caponata — which is meant to be part of a main dish rather than a snacky spread — the eggplant sucked up all the other flavors, especially the briney sweat of the capers and olives, which was my very favorite part. And Shae said the recipe is super easy — even for people who are preparing it at the last minute while running around trying to pack for a trip and grousing about having too much to do. It’s adapted from a great cookbook called Hollyhock Cooks: Food to Nourish Body, Mind, and Soil, co-written by our friend, Moreka Jolar, who’s currently making great food at Cook’s Cooperative in Vancouver. Mo thought you might want to put some zucchini in it, but Shae is even more suspicious of zucchini than she is of eggplant, so she left it out.
Everyone loved this dish. Shae had three helpings spooned over her brown rice pasta. I may be a porcupine, but I can count.
makes 8 generous servings
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large eggplant, cubed
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
3 large tomatoes, cubed (or whatever)
1/4 cup capers, rinsed
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 generous pinches red chili flakes
2 bay leaves
1 cup spicy green olives, sliced in rounds
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the eggplant, onion, garlic, and celery and sauté for 10 minutes or until the celery starts to get tender. Add the peppers, tomato, red wine, capers, black pepper, chili flakes, and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for 45 – 50 minutes, until the mixture is thick and saucy.
2. While the caponata simmers, prepare whatever you’re going to serve it over. In this case, that was simple wheat-free pasta, cooked according to the instructions on the package.
3. Add the green and Kalamata olives to the sauce and serve, maybe with some grated cheese on top.
Turned out this eggplant thing was okay. I liked it almost as much as a good plywood sandwich.